We certainly have been having quite the cold winter, something we have not experienced for a number of years. During those very cold days, we don’t really like being outside. But what about animals? Do you see any cattle out in the fields on those cold days? Do you think they might freeze to death out there? Are they being taken care of properly? This week, let’s look closer at this, with thanks going to Mike and Joanne Buis of Buis Beef here in Chatham-Kent for their assistance.
Like all mammals, cattle are warm-blooded and need to maintain a constant core body temperature. Special management and planning is required for cattle to graze outdoors in the winter. For this to be successful, producers select the proper breed of cattle and create the proper conditions for the winter season.
Body conditioning and hair coat are very important. Cattle need to carry a little extra fat for insulation. To accomplish this, producers provide extra feed to help them gain weight. Prior to winter, they also allow the cattle to be in open-air barns or to run outside, which helps them grow a thick coat before the cold weather sets in. The true test on a snowy day is to actually see snow staying on the backs of the cattle, which means they are not losing a lot of body heat.
Grazing fields should contain enough nutritious feed to maintain the herd. Corn stalks provide enough energy for cows over the winter. Wheat, oats, and barley still provide food value even after they are frozen and covered with snow. Supplemental minerals and vitamins are supplied to the cattle on a free-choice basis. Our producers monitor their cattle very closely and as grazing feed supplies dwindle or when it becomes extremely cold, extra grain or feed is supplied as necessary. For example, when the temperature (with the wind-chill) dips to below minus 12 degrees, cattle require 20% more energy to stay warm, and at minus 23 degrees, they need about 40% more energy.
So during those very cold days we had, the cattle’s diet is supplemented with a higher energy feed such as corn silage. Also, straw or cornstalks in sheltered areas provides warmer resting places. Wind can cause discomfort to cattle outside and wind-chill can be serious. Cattle have access to natural windbreaks (trees or brush) and man-made structures (buildings, board fences, straw bales). Instinctively, they will graze or stand in groups with their backs to the wind and when it gets too windy, they will move to areas of low wind or find shelter, even if that means in another farmer’s barn.
Accumulated snow provides another source of much needed water during the winter. Cattle will eat snow rather than return to the barn for water.
Farmers can’t control the weather, but they do everything reasonably possible to reduce the effects of cold weather on their livestock. These measures help reduce costs and improve production efficiency. Cattle able to spend the winter outdoors are healthy, well exercised, and in excellent shape for when they have calves in the spring.
So if you see cattle outside during cold days, there is no need to worry about them and no need to call the humane society. Our Chatham-Kent cattle producers do care for their animals throughout the entire year.
Think about this – Exercise daily by walking with the Lord.
Just some food for thought.